Since 1998, The Lesser Birds of Paradise have evolved from charming folk-pop to a more ambitious, textured craft. Over the last few years, their sound has been refined to its most organic elements, and their appeal has developed beyond the Chicago indie-rock scene.

Following the lovely A Suitable Frame and It Isn't the Fall EP (both on Loose Thread Recordings) and several national tours, 2004's String of Bees (Contraphonic Music) was met with a larger national presence, and critical acclaim. Rockpile declared, "records like this only come along a few times a year... [their] best effort to date." Back home, the Chicago Reader proclaimed String of Bees to be "so gorgeous it's almost toxic." The Lesser Birds quickly followed that with The Scenery EP (Tight Ship Records). Recorded mostly live in half a day, with very few overdubs, its resulting sparseness and openness was a nice compliment to String of Bees' layered textures and subtle studio trickery.

The Lesser Birds' subtle experiments and arrangements, which acted as flourishes on previous releases, developed into integral muscle on their latest, the mesmeric Space Between. With emphasis on every detail, Space Between opens up secret passageways of sound, where melodies aren't so much played as naturally grown, where single notes, pump organs, xylophones, muted drums, and echoing voices, layer in a warm, seductive embrace. Coupled with tapestries of American Gothic narratives, sly humor, animal characters, and Robert Creeley-cum-Charles Olson poetics, Space Between is a record of lasting impression and importance that has garnered accolades from National Public Radio to the Washington Post Express, and cemented The Lesser Birds of Paradise as one of the more original bands today.

Band photo © 2007 Elite Electro.

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Downloads / URLs

Press Photo (72dpi)
Press Photo (300dpi)
"A Magnet in You" (mp3)
"I Envy The Photons" (mp3)
"I Envy The Photons" (video)

Releases on Contraphonic

  • Space Between. CON 056. Released: 08.08.06
    Tracklisting: My Refrain / A Rehearsal / Paint Your Fingernails / Do You Remember When (We Overthrew the Government)? / Always The Sound / I Envy the Photons / Claire Danes, If You Ever Get a Nose Job, I Swear to Jesus I'll Hang Myself / Spider Outside / So The Bear Wipes His Ass with the Rabbit / The Devil's Rope / Take the Leaves / A Mother's Arms / You Are My Sunshine
    Those who enjoyed the lovingly arranged String of Bees, the Lesser Birds of Paradise's previous long player, will welcome with open arms Space Between, the group's latest recording. Vocalist/guitarists Tim Joyce and Mark Janka and drummer Greg Thomas have crafted another nuanced set of finely wrought and imaginatively scored songs. "My Refrain" is a lonesome, drone-filled pastoral ambler, haloed by musical saw glissandi; equally rustic is the folksy "Devil's Rope." On "A Rehearsal," understated vocals are accompained by laters of acoustic guitars and un unobstrusive horn section playing lush harmonies. In a piquant juxtaposition, "Do You Remember When (We Overthrew the Government?)" pits dark lyrics ("Catch a bullet/with your head...") against a relaxed, hazy instrumental accompainiment, complete with plaintive harmonica solo. Lest one is worried that the group operates on a relentlessly mellow frequency, Thomas lets the cymbals rip and Janka and Joyce indulge in some tasty instrumental breaks on "Always the Sound." Still, Space Between abounds with memorable ballads , including the delicate "I Envy the Photons" and an imaginatively titled open letter to a siren of the screen: "Claire Danes, If You Ever Get a Nose Job, I Swear to Jesus I'll Hang Myself." A special standout is "Take the Leaves," which boasts the album's best melody and a deft arrangement, which begins with just voice and guitar and accumulates chorale-like horn passages along the way. The album closer if a quixotic, piano-laden slowcore version of "You are My Sunshine." Space Between is an affecting recording that often speaks softly, but with beguiling results. SIGNAL TO NOISE

    There's an odd tension when one finds a relatively obscure band that is on the verge of something big: you want to keep it a secret, so the band can be yours and yours alone, but you also want to share it with everyone you know, shout it from mountaintops. Well, mountaintop, meet The Lesser Birds of Paradise. Space Between is one of those albums where the appeal swings from song to song depending on your mood. The guitars veer between jangling country style riffs and shimmering accents, all kept centered by Mark Janka's understated vocals. "I Envy The Photons" is one of the best songs of the year, unafraid of its own IQ, so sparsely gorgeous it's painful. Keeping such a wonder as The Lesser Birds of Paradise a secret would be selfishness akin to hiding a great work of art in a private collection. SPARE CHANGE MAGAZINE

    Exquisitely crafted sonic atmospheres that permeate your cells with creepy beauty. ROCTOBER
  • String of Bees. CON 033. Released: 03.24.04
    Tracklisting: A Magnet in You / When the Devil Does a Drive-By / This is the Song I wrote Last Night / Mermaid on the Blvd. / Where the River Meets the Sea / Because We are also what we have lost / You Snooze, You Lose / Assorted Aphrodisiacs / Josephine / Come to the City / Back there on foot
    Chicago's Lesser Birds of Paradise return with their third, possibly best effort to date. The lush, pastoral sounds of String of Bees is a rolling landscape of lap steels, musical saws, and ukuleles that creates a whimsical feeling; the perfect compliment to the somber vocal stylings of singer Mark Janka. The record, like the reluctant transition from winter to spring, comes off as hopeful, slow-moving, and bittersweet. Neither enitrely happy nor sad, the songs lollygag amongst a messay range of emotions. Records like this only come along a few times a year. Buy it, don't burn it. ROCKPILE

    Warm and heartfelt but smart and challenging, String of Bees rewards multiple listens, as subtle layers of manipulated sound reveal themselves from behind the acoustic foreground and lyrics take unexpected turns. It'll take just one listen, however, for you to wonder why you've never heard of Lesser Birds of Paradise before. There won't be many better albums this year. POP MATTERS